In the 25-plus years I've written about technology, I've interviewed fewer than 50 female Microsoft employees (by my rough estimate). In part, this is because there are less of them. Microsoft officials say women comprise 25 percent of the company's total workforce. It's also because many of the women who do work at Microsoft are in marketing, sales and support roles and aren't among those who are "authorized" to talk to us press/blogger types.
There are a handful of women employees dotting Microsoft's executive ranks, including two Senior Vice Presidents (Lisa Brummel,head of Human Resources, and Mich Matthews, head of the Central Marketing Group). But I wanted to meet some of the less-public techies -- the engineers, product managers and programmers who work at Microsoft to find out how and why they've managed to buck the continuing trend of women not entering math/science careers. The women I've interviewed for this series have joined Microsoft via a wide variety of paths. Some knew since they were kids they wanted to be involved in technology. Others came to the Empire via a more circuitous route (master of fine arts in poetry, anyone?). Some are Microsoft lifers. Others are recent hires.
On March 24, Ada Lovelace Day -- which is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in science and technology -- I kicked off a new series profiling some of these Microsoft women worth watching. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be running profiles of ten of them on my blog.
This profile is number nine -- one more to go (for those of you keeping count). But keep those suggestions and nominations coming; I'm hoping to find other ways to get more Microsoft women featured on my blog in the coming months.
Title: Group Program Manager, Management and Services, Windows Server
What’s Your Typical Day Like? There's no such thing as a "typical" day for Chapple. Depending on where the products on which she is working are in the cycle -- planning, execution, ready to ship, etc. -- she performs different functions and tasks. When it's early on, she spends more time talking to customer; during shipping, she evaluates issues that arise and does a lot of triaging. Throughout, there are lots of meetings, meetings, meetings, she says.
Did you always want to be involved in technology? If not, what steered you this way? In high school, Chapple enjoyed math and science and knew she wanted to go in that direction. She took a number of electronics, drafting and shop classes "because I liked problem-solving and building things," she recalls. She decided she'd major in electrical engineering, as she had a lot of cousins in EE who showed her it could be fun, she says. She ended up getting her Bachelor's in EE with an Environmental Engineering minor from the University of Waterloo, Canada -- but still had an interest in and fondness for computer science.
A few months into her first EE job while in school, Chapple realized "it wasn't what I thought it would be." She says she was "too much of a people person" to spend her entire day focused on switches and routers. She had interned -- not just once, but four times -- at Microsoft while still in college. She had done stints on Outlook ("before it was even called Outlook," she says) and Small Business Server. (She was awarded a patent for work she did during her first internship.)
In 1998, she was hired by Microsoft to work on the Small Business Server team and spent four years there working on the first four releases, first as an individual contributor, and later as a manager of a small team. She moved ot the Windows Server team to work on Group Policy and software updating. She then became a Group Program Manager, where she worked on the user experience and integration.
These days, Chapple is working on the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). She and her team oversee the automation platform in Windows Server, PowerShell, the management console and the management user experience. She also owns MDOP engineering. the overall release management for MDOP.
Advice for women (and/or men) considering a career in technology? "Check out your perceptions. Careers in technology doesn't mean you're going to be stuck writing code -- or that you can't," Chapple says. "There's so much flexibility in who you can be and how you can manage your career that you don't need to be pigeonholed," she says. She also advises folks not to be afraid to try something new, just because you don't have the background and experience that many expect for a task. "You might think something isn't achievable, but at least you can try," Chapple says.
Favorite gadget (just one) or technology: Her Samsung Sega Windows Phone, and especially the Bing search app on it.
Being a program manager was the perfect job for Erin Chapple: It is a bridge between technology and people, she says.
Chapple is an EE by trade, but with a Master's in Applied Behavioral Science (Coaching and Consulting in Organizations) from the Leadership Institute of Seattle. She loves technology, but she equally loves the process and people aspect of the field.
When Chapple moved into the management side of the Windows business, she had a chance to put both pieces together. She was one of the original team charged with the early thinking/planning/incubation around the management of Windows Server. She worked on the Server Manager, Server Setup, PowerShell, WS-Man and M-UX products. But she also has done a lot of mentoring and facilitating and interacting directly with customers.
"There's an increasing reliance by our customers on servers, which means there is a playground of opportunities for delivering solutions," Chapple says.
What is it about management that has her not even thinking about other opportunities inside or outside Microsoft?
"Automation is the biggest thing right now," Chapple says. With new improvements in Windows Server 2008 R2 in the areas of PowerShell and remoting, it's getting easiers for customers to automate their environments, requiring them to do less manual server management. She and her team are focused on how Microsoft can best provide a truly robust automation service , whether it be via layering a user interface on top fo the core platform, using management tools, learning how to script (or all of the above).
Given automation and management are supposedly going to be key to the next release of Windows client and server (at least that's what I hear through the grapevine, not from Chapple), Windows management might get a whole lot more visible in the coming months/years. Windows Intune, Microsoft's recently introduced management software/service is just one example of where the company is focusing in the management/automation arena going forward.
(Check out all the Microsoft Women Worth Watching profiles here.)